Re: [tomato] Floramerica

ChuckWyatt/Md/Z7 (
Fri, 16 Oct 1998 19:35:47 -0400

Hi Margaret,

I know that to a certain extent, I'm "preaching to the choir" in this case
but there seem to be enough "newbies" for me to justify getting out the ole
explanation dossier.  Please accept the fact that I am stricken with
Macular Degeneration and my vision becomes increasingly poorer. I'll have
to do this in parts so please understand if it is disjointed.

My family used to spend part of each Summer in our old home at Lynnwood,
Virginia, where Madison Run reaches the Shenandoah River.  A cousin, Samuel
Hance Lewis IV, farmed what was once a part of the Lewis holdings which
were originally deeded to Merriweather Lewis of Lewis and Clarke.  Sam's
tomatoes were outstanding and I longed for them when away from Lynnwood.

Until World War II  it was the normal policy for seed companies to
stabilize any hybrid varieties before putting them on the market.  This
required anywhere from three to thirty generations and some varieties just
wouldn't stabilize. Considerable costs were borne by the seed companies in
these sometimes futile endeavors. The money factor soon overtook
responsible action and breeders stopped "finishing" their work.  An
exception is Jeff McCormack, PHD, owner of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
 Jeff's Red Mortgage Lifter is one of, if not my absolute favorite tomato. 
It is not an heirloom but it has been stabilized.

After The War the improvement in our transportation system developed a need
for tomatoes that would withstand mechanical harvesting as well as cross
country shipping.  As a result of major breeding programs, varieties with
tougher skins and harder flesh were developed.  Flavor was not a major
consideration and was all but lost in this process. Another legal decision
declaring that hybrids could be patented while open pollinated varieties
were a part of the public domain and could not be patented. There was also
a proviso limiting production of new OP varieties called the Plant
Protection Act.

 Pat Moody and Carey Fowler document the loss of germ plasm as well as the
rape of the seed business by large conglomerates in their book,
"Shattering." ( ISBN 0-8165-1181-0  by the University of Arizona Press,) 
It's good reading.

When I retired from the Air Force in 1977 I moved to the Shenandoah Valley,
my old family home territory. Alas,  I found no better tomatoes than I had
found over the rest of the globe.  Sam Lewis still grew tomatoes but they
were Better Boy and Early Girl.  During the next ten years or so I tried a
minimum of 20 varieties each year, each of them hybrid, Then I happened
upon a seed rack at "Montecello", Thomas Jefferson's old home.  The rack
contained varieties said to have been grown by Jefferson as well as other
heirloom tomato varieties.  The company was Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
and the varieties were superb!  I also saw mention of Seed Savers' Exchange
which I also joined. Since then I have been growing in the neighborhood of
100 varieties a year and I have drifted away from the hybrids which I find
to have a remarkable similarity.

Floramerica was one of the varieties I trialed and I found it to be very
disease resistant although unremarkable otherwise.

I suspect many of the so called modern hybrids have actually become open
pollinated and Dona is one that comes to mind.  I tried it as both an open
pollinated and a hybrid variety nd can't tell the difference.  I feel
pressure should be applied to encourage the breeders to stabilize their
best varieties.  Otherwise, the hybrids will continue to only exist at the
pleasure of the patent holders and extinct is forever.

I now have a collection of something exceeding 400 heirloom varieties which
I maintain using a four year rotation.  I consider maintaining what is left
of what are arguably the best tomatoes ever grown to be a worthwhile hobby
and will continue to do so as long as my vision permits.

I do send seed to anyone for $1.00 per packet to defray my costs and anyone
who likes can E mail a postal address to me for those purposes.

As a matter of curiosity, after Sam Lewis' death Tommy Dillworth found a
fruit jar containing some tomato seeds in Sam's old farm "Avonfeld."  I
have grown out a fine med/large red tomato from that seed and now am in a
position to introduce the "Lynnwood" tomato.

Good gardening,

Chuck Wyatt